Christ conversing with Martha and Mary; dark interior with Christ seated before a window with double arch, addressing Martha who stands at l with a basket in her hand, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, Mary sits with a book on her knees to r. c.1650 Pen and brown ink and brown wash, touched with white


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: Oo,10.123

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 112 (anonymous Rembrandt School)
Hind 1915-31 118

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Circle/School of Rembrandt (anonymous) (biographical details | all objects)
1652 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

Christ conversing with Martha and Mary; dark interior with Christ seated before a window with double arch, addressing Martha who stands at left with a basket in her hand, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, Mary sits with a book on her knees to right. c.1652

Pen and brown ink with brown and grey-brown wash, heightened with white; some scraping-out;* framing lines in pen and brown ink.
*Please see n.1 under Comment.

Verso: laid down on backing paper.

Watermark: apparently in the backing paper: foolscap with five-pointed collar, comparable to Hinterding catalogue, 'E.b.b' and 'F.c.a' (same as cat. no.102; Oo,9.101).

Inscription Content: On verso of backing, in graphite: '10 [in a circle]' and 'P. Knight/O.o. No 122'.

Height: 184 millimetres
Width: 261 millimetres (horizontal chain lines; distance apart uncertain)

Generally good, though a little rubbed; trimmed on the left, where originally two globes were visible (see the note on old copies below).

Curator's comments
Further Literature: L. Dewitt, B. Ducos and G.S. Keyes, "Rembrandt et la figure du Christ", exh.cat. Louvre Paris, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Detroit Institute of Arts, 2011-2012,cat.no.54.

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, anonymous Rembrandt School, cat. no.112:
For the subject, see cat. no.105 (1895,0915.1254). Usually Martha, here on the left, is shown working at a kitchen hearth but is depicted here as if entering the room from the garden, with some edible produce. The biblical text is not specific (she is said to be 'cumbered about much serving' in Luke, X, 40). In a drawing attributed to Rembrandt (but now ascribed to Govert Flinck) at Haarlem (Benesch 79), Martha also has a basket of vegetables, but does not wear a broad-brimmed gardening hat.
Although the high quality of the drawing is self-evident, it has not been accepted unreservedly as by Rembrandt since its exhibition in 1899. An attribution to him would depend on a comparison with his drawing in the Six Album of 'Minerva in her Study' (Benesch 914), which is signed and dated 1652. In the penwork this offers certain analogies, especially in the hatching: curved in Christ's robe here and at the base of the table in the Six drawing, and at times applied, as in the headscarf worn by Mary here or in the bust in the 'Minerva', with extraordinary delicacy. Yet in general the British Museum sheet makes a different impression and lacks the subtlety both in line and in the suggestion of light, largely rendered in wash, of the Six drawing. While this might be explicable if the wash were a later addition by another hand, the three known early copies of the drawing (listed below) and the scraping-out of certain details to obtain highlights (see n.1 below), suggest that the wash is an integral part of the drawing. Rembrandt's authorship is therefore difficult to sustain. Yet it was probably made in his studio at about the same period as the Six drawing (i.e. 1652), a time when Willem Drost (q.v.) and others were active there, but a specific attribution on the basis of drawings of known authorship remains elusive.
The following copies are known to the compiler: 1) Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Inv. No.1143 (this is larger at the sides); 2) Prof. Dr. iur Eike v. Hippel collection, Hamburg, ex-collections Dimsdale, L.2426; Grisebach; his sale, Stuttgart, Gutekunst, 1905, no.1304, repr. pl.15; A. Curtis, L.94; sold at Hamburg, Hauswedell & Nolte, 9 June, 1988, lot 96, repr. pl.14 (larger at the sides; the drawing mentioned in London, 1915);[3] 3) Maida and George S. Abrams collection, Boston, from the J.F. Gigoux collection (L.1164)[4]; 4) a version from the Marquis de Lagoy collection (L.1710) on the Paris art market in 1997.[5]

[1] The wash might be thought to be later, but see further below: the old copies listed here and the scraping-out (beneath the book; in Christ's nose; in the window-frame) suggest that it is all original.
[2] Note in the Register.
[3] I am grateful to the owner for a letter of 11 Sept. 1988 (in Museum files).
[4] Repr. Exh. Denver-Newark, 2001-2002, p.174, cat. no.39.
[5] Kindly brought to my attention in March 1997 by George Watson. It measures 200 x 320mm.

Josi, 1821, p.21; Bürger, 1858, p.400 (by Rembrandt, 'superbe dessin'); Bell, c.1905, repr. pl.XXVI; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.886 (not beyond all doubt); London, 1915, no.118, repr. pl.XIV (doubtful, but inclined to accept as by Rembrandt); Valentiner, I, 1925, p.489, under no.397 (school); Pollock, 1974, pp.671-2, repr. (admired by van Gogh).

Admired, among others, by Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh said of it; "Rembrandt knew that, for from the rich treasure of his heart he brought forth among things that drawing in sepia, charcoal, ink, etc. (the one in the British Museum), representing the house in Bethany. Twilight fills the room, the figure of Our Lord, noble and impressive, stands out gravely dark against the window through which the evening twilight falls. Like the figure of John Halifax, who said that he was a Christian, against a white-curtained window in a room at Rose Cottage, I think, on an evening like so many that are described with so much feeling in the book. At the feet of Jesus sits Mary, who has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from her, and Martha is in the room busy with something or other, if I remember rightly she stirs the fire or something similar. That drawing I hope never to forget" (from Chris Stolwijk et al., (2003) 'Vincent's Choice: The Musée Imaginaire of Van Gogh'. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum and Mercatorfonds, p.210-11).

martha and mary (all objects)
christ (scope note | all objects)

Associated names
Representation of Jesus Christ (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Marquis de la Mure; his sale, Paris, 22 April, 1791, bt by Payne Knight for 350 livres;* bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight, 1824. *Please see n.2 under Comment.

Exhibition History
London, 1899, no.A88 (manner of Rembrandt; probably same hand as cat. no.104; Oo,10.124 - perhaps van Hoogstraten);
London, 1956, p.31, no.1 (anonymous);
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle (not in catalogue, as School of Rembrandt, but discussed and repr. p.12, fig.iv, on provenance and critical history);
Amsterdam 2003, pp.210-11 (Van Gogh's admiration of the drawing).
2011 April-July, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Heads of Christ from Life
2011 July-Oct, Philadelphia Mus of Art, Heads of Christ from Life
2011/12, Nov-Feb, Detroit Inst Fine Arts, Heads of Christ from Life

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